CORVALLIS, Ore. — What happens when the Washington men’s basketball team isn’t ripping away steals and swiping passes for easy baskets?
That was the pertinent question for the Huskies, who were also left to wonder how they would fare without coach Mike Hopkins after he entered COVID-19 protocols and missed his first UW game since taking over in 2017.
Washington, which entered Thursday night’s game at Oregon State ranked ninth nationally among Division I teams in forcing turnovers, had difficulty generating the defensive mayhem that’s led to a series of miscues and mishaps from opposing teams in recent weeks.
As a result, the Huskies sparred with the Beavers for 25 minutes before pulling away early in the second half and claiming an 82-72 victory in front of 3,833 at Gill Coliseum.
Washington forced just 12 turnovers – nine fewer than its average – but the Huskies can always rely on a big offensive night from Pac-12 scoring leader Terrell Brown Jr., who finished with 27 points on 11-for-18 shooting, six rebounds and five assists.
“We just turned up our defensive intensity,” said Brown, who increased his scoring average to 21.4 points. “We pride ourselves on defense a lot, but due to the game plan, we were more relaxed and laid back (in the first half).
“But we changed that in the second half. We came with a more aggressive approach on the defensive end. Eventually, we adjusted and got a few steals in the second half and was able to put the game away.”
The Huskies, which won its third straight game and improved to 9-7 and 4-2 in the Pac-12, received significant contributions from a variety of players in addition to Brown.
Emmitt Matthews Jr. tallied 16 points and four rebounds, PJ Fuller came off the bench and added 11 points while Jamal Bey poured in 10 points and Daejon Davis added seven assists, five rebounds and two steals.
“We can win in a lot of different ways,” Brown said. “We can win with the 2-3 zone. We can press. We can win 53-48 and we can win games when it gets to the 80s like tonight. It just shows the versatility of our team. Everybody can get it going.”
Technically, Hopkins, who spent the night quarantined in a Corvallis, Ore. hotel, gets the win, but this game will be remembered as the first time Washington assistant Will Conroy served as acting head coach.
The former Husky point guard who joined UW coaching staff in 2015 walked off the court clutching a white towel while fist-bumping several UW fans in the crowd and flashing a “W” before disappearing into the hallway.
“I found out I was going to be coaching four hours before the game,” Conroy said. “Two hours later, it got out to the media. I was hoping it would stay quiet until we got to the game, but then my phone started going crazy. We had a team meeting and I had to alert the guys. They were all like, ‘Let’s go coach. We got your back.’
“I just wanted to be low maintenance. I didn’t want to make it a big deal. Let’s work. Let’s just go to work.”
In the first half, neither team led by more than five points during a back-and-forth battle that included 14 lead changes and the score was tied four times.
The Huskies, trailed 38-36 at halftime and was down 43-42 early in the second half when they took the lead for good with a 6-0 run that included Brown’s layup, Langston Wilson’s alley-oop dunk and Davis layup to go ahead 48-43 with 14:12 left.
Minutes later, Washington used a 7-0 run for its first double-digit lead.
Brown and Davis began the spurt with – what else? – a driving layup before Davis stripped Maurice Calloo at the top of the key for a breakaway dunk and Bey buried a corner 3 to give UW a 60-50 lead at the 9:53 mark.
Washington pushed its advantage to 11 before Oregon State made one last push and cut its deficit to 73-68 with 1:49 left.
Fuller answered with a corner 3 and Brown sank a pair of free throws, which sealed the win for UW.
Dashawn Davis scored a team-high 17 points for Oregon State (3-14, 1-6), which lost its fourth straight game.
Conroy highlighted UW’s perimeter defense that held OSU to just 3-of-19 shooting on three-pointers. He also applauded Washington’s 16 assists and just nine turnovers.
“I was tossed in the fire tonight, but the guys came through and we won,” said Conroy who was drenched after UW players showered him with water during a locker room celebration. “It was all about the guys. They played their tail off. It’s not about me.”
Washington concludes its road trip Sunday at Oregon and Conroy is expected to return to the sideline for his second stint as head coach.
“I’m not a doctor, but I think Coach (Hopkins) will be able to be back by next week,” Conroy said. “Nothing changes. We go to work. Watch film. Figure out a game plan. Get these guys ready and then go to work.”
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